I think we’ve done a fairly decent job of educating our kids over the past year about the healthier food choices we would be making going forward. As parents, we both explained why we’d be ditching our regular fast food trips and why they’d no longer find a mega-size bag of frozen chicken nuggets in the freezer. They seemed to get it, for the most part, and while they’ve definitely protested from time to time, they’ve also asked plenty of questions about ingredients and labels and how food is made to let us know they’re paying attention, even if they don’t always like what we’re steering them towards.
But recently we’ve noticed that perhaps we’ve subliminally indoctrinated them into the “healthy eating club” a little more than we had realized. We overhear things, and they’ve told us some stories from school that have us both cringing and laughing. My dad says we’ve brainwashed them, but I’d like to think we’ve just provided plenty of persuasive evidence that a 7- and 9-year-old would understand, and they’ve joined the club by their own free will. Just a few examples which prove we’ve successfully indoctrinated, er, brainwashed, our kiddos into eating healthier.
1. At restaurants and without prompting, they order fruit instead of french fries.
Damnit! I wanted the fries so I could steal a few!
2. They question their grandparents motives when they try to feed them fast food, and I overhear them ask, “Don’t you care about our well-being grandpa?!?!”
I still haven’t heard the end of this from my dad, and it was 6 months ago.
3. Our 4th grader proudly retells a story from the school lunch table about advising her friend to stay away from the bright orange cheese crackers which are packed in her lunch. “I told her how that artificial dyes were bad for her, Mom.”
Great, now my daughter is the food police. [Insert eye roll here.]
4. The day after Halloween, after sorting through and taking inventory of their haul, they pick out several of their favorite pieces and then bag up the rest. They offered it to their dad to take into the office and share with his coworkers.
I then pulled them aside and demanded to know who these “kids” were and what had they done with my children?!?
5. Before their latest dentist check-up, they seemed a little too excited, stating they were pretty sure they’d be cavity-free since they’ve “cut back” on their candy consumption.
I chose to celebrate this milestone by taking them to get ice cream right afterwards, with as many toppings as their hearts desired.
6. I notice my son carefully scraping off the neon-colored icing sitting on top of his cupcake. Later, when I asked him why he had done that, he said the frosting was too sweet and probably had too much sugar in it.
What kind of kid thinks anything is ever too sweet?!?
7. My daughter gets up Saturday morning and makes whole-wheat pancakes, all on her own.
When I was 9, I got up and made myself a bowl of Cap’n Crunch.
8. At a kid’s birthday party, my 7-year-old pulls me aside and questions why the birthday boy is drinking soda pop since it “rots your teeth.”
In fear of being thrown out by the host, I beg my son not to repeat that out loud.
Here’s the thing, I’m thrilled my kids are interested and paying attention to the things we’re trying to teach them, and no one appreciates healthy eating more than me. I want them to learn from a young age how important food is to our health and well-being and hope that these lessons my husband and I are teaching them while they’re still young will carry them through to their college dorm years and when they’re hungry and low on cash during their lean twenties. But I also just want them to be kids for goodness sake! Live a little. Eat some candy, get a little sick to your stomach so you know your limits, offer grace not judgement, and above all else have a healthy appreciation for moderation and balance.
I thought I was doing a decent job of instilling these little lessons, but the proof is in the pudding, and I may want to scale back on the food label and nutrition talk, at least when the kids are around. Our conversations and interactions are short and infrequent, overall, since kids this age don’t have an extensive attention span for this kind of thing (thank goodness). But boy oh boy do they have ears, and they are listening! When my husband and I talk about how much soda a relative drinks and how concerning it is, they hear it. When they see me snub my nose at a boxed treat after reading the ingredient label, they take that in. They’re little sponges, and as much as I’m proud of the strides we’ve made in getting our family to eat a lot better than we did before, they often can’t discern the difference between pride and boastfulness. I don’t want them thinking we’re somehow better just because we eat more veggies than we used to and we pass on the soda.
So apologies to family and friends across the board, if my little ones have seemed a little too eager and offered unsolicited eating advice or given a sidewards glance at your party treats. This way of eating is still sort of new to all of us, in the grand scheme of things, and it seems that we may have all gotten a little too excited. We’re pressing pause and retooling our conversations about food here in our house, and look forward to lots more good times, where food will not be a topic of conversation. I promise.
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